According to research from the Rescue Time app which monitors smartphone use, we spend an average of three hours and 15 minutes on our phones every day. Smartphones not only take up hours of our time, they have also changed our sleeping habits. In her book, The Phone Addiction Workbook’, Hilda Burke quotes a 2017 Deloitte study with UK smartphone users between 16 to 75-year-old. It found that:
Phone use is so widespread, even compulsive, because it meets all three of our basic human needs. We can keep a constant eye on a world of potential problems, which satisfies our fear need. The endless novelty of scrolling and ‘pull to refresh’ stimulates the reward part in our brain in the same way as cocaine. For our human need for connection, phones enable a surface level form of it, with potentially millions of people around the world.
Of course, the prerequisite to meeting all these needs is that we’re awake. This sets up a conflict between phone use and sleep, with sleep often losing. The blue light from a phone screen actually wakes us up. The resulting disruption to our natural body clock affects metabolism, appetite and mood, reducing melatonin and therefore restorative sleep. With less restorative sleep, we feel more tired and have reduced concentration and focus the following day.
Lack of sleep is consistent with increased anxiety, stress, depression and irritability. It can be a trigger addictive behaviour and lessen our ability to resist cravings. Tiredness generally inhibits our ability to think clearly and, in turn, to feel and behave in ways that are in our best interests.
It’s therefore important to be aware of how our sleep is being affected by our phone use. Initially, we can just be conscious about how we’re using our phone around bedtime and the effects it’s having. We might then make some practical changes like reading a printed book before bed rather than a screen and stopping phone use in the hour before sleep, finding other ways of relaxing in this period that doesn’t involve our phone. We should also be mindful of what we’re looking at on our phones throughout the day. Lots of what we see can trigger fear and anger, keeping us awake when the lights go out.
Therapy can really help here, by increasing awareness of all our patterns, including phone use and sleep. If we decide something’s unhelpful, we can look at possible changes. Our impulse to check our phone can be controlled, and when it is, this can generally aid a restorative sleep. A therapist can help us find control and balance, allowing for greater enjoyment in the ‘ordinary’ around us and reducing our need to search endlessly for it on our phone.
You can also find support by contacting:
In an emergency, call: 999
NHS (England), call: 111
NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47
The Samaritans 24 hour helpline, call: 116 123